Leroy Pyle, veteran of 27 years of uninterrupted police service, and NRA’s “Man of the Year” in 1989, was fired from his position as Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America on October 13th.
LEAA was incorporated in the spring of this year. Chartered as an “umbrella” organization designed to further the interests of both police and civilians, LEAA subsumed the single-purpose entity known as Law Enforcement for the Preservation of the Second Amendment (LEPSA) and granted charter membership status in the new organization to existing members of LEPSA. Along with the membership list, the two leaders of LEPSA – Leroy Pyle and Tom Aveni – were folded in. Aveni was given a spot on LEAA’s Board of Directors and Pyle was voted Executive Director of the organization. Backed by NRA dollars, offices were leased in prestigious Falls Church, VA in May. Powerful computers were installed and an electronic bulletin board system was brought to life. Stationery was printed and office staff was hired.
Immediate efforts were promptly directed at strengthening membership, lobbying for a uniform national concealed carry law for police, the promotion of greater recognition (and furtherance) of victims’ rights, and – foremost – the mounting of a national, grass-roots police crusade against the Brady bill and other pernicious legislation.
The six months of Pyle’s tenure at the new organization resulted in a membership increase to nearly 30,000, a special issue of the American Rifleman devoted to police concerns, a hard-fought battle against Dewey Stokes (anti-gun president of the FOP) on behalf of pro-gun candidate Tom Possumato, and innumerable radio, television, and speaking appearances representing the voice of line cops raised in opposition to restrictive firearms legislation.
Controversy has swirled throughout Leroy Pyle’s career. A 27-year veteran police officer in San Jose, CA, his last ten years of service have been racked by lawsuits, suspensions, and rumor-mongering, all due to Pyle’s unwavering committment to the Second Amendment in the face of embittered opposition from talk-show darling (and then-Chief of Police) Joseph “Banana Joe” McNamara.
A true superstar in the gun-control movement, McNamara earned his nickname while serving – briefly – as chief of police in Kansas City, MO. during the mid-1970′s. Having been hired, in part, based upon his academically-inspired “progressive ideas”, Chief McNamara promptly lived up (or down) to his command staff’s expectations by declaring that the presence of firearms-carrying law officers tended to “alienate and intimidate the community” and was thus a direct cause of crime. McNamara then recommended that Kansas City police officers stop carrying guns. Shortly thereafter, a number of senior officers came to work one morning, chipper and ready-for-duty with bananas in their holsters.
With the laughter still ringing in his ears, Chief McNamara quietly shopped his resume around. Soon, he was hired as chief by another department in need of enlightenment – in San Jose, California. Having barely settled into his new job, McNamara ramped-up his push for national recognition on the issue of gun control. Linking up with Sarah Brady after the Reagan assasination attempt, he ascended the summit of the gun control movement, appearing on television and radio talk shows and getting much print-media coverage along the lines of “big city chief talks tough turkey on gun control”. From his advantaged, media-darling position, he addressed Congress and various legislatures in addition to countless “citizens’ anti-crime committees” and other Handgun Control, Inc. front organizations. McNamara ultimately came to be seen, by liberal media and politicians, as the perfect weapon to be used to drive wedges between police and the NRA and between gunowners and police. And, used he was – often, and effectively!
Meanwhile, back in the San Jose Police Department, there was a veteran officer named Leroy Pyle who was growing concerned about the media-generated hype and hysteria on an issue very dear to him – the nature of individual freedom as reflected by firearms ownership in a free society. Firming up a resolve to do what little he could to counter media distortions and falsehoods, he got active in the fight against Proposition 15 – a measure which would have banned the sale of handguns throughout the state of California. The measure failed, but another battle arose: “Cop-killer bullets”. Pyle may have been the first police officer to publicly state that the media attention given to the issue of cop-killer bullets would likely result in criminals going for headshots against police officers who, the media pointed out, had widely adopted the wearing of Kevlar body armor. Prophetically, headshots did indeed became more common and officers’ lives were needlessly sacrificed.
Around this time, incidentally, Pyle worked out of the Chief’s office and was on cordial terms with him. This was to change, however, in the face of his boss’ toadying-up to the gun control crowd and Pyle’s determination to fight for truth and reason in the debate.
Late in the 1980′s, Pyle agreed to participate – on his own time, unpaid, and out of uniform – in a short video intended to dispel ignorance surrounding the nature of semiautomatic firearms. This brief presentation covered distinctions between semi- and fully-automatic firearms, the basic functional identity amongst various semi-automatic firearms underlying cosmetic differences, and factual information concerning the low incidence of violent crimes committed with such weapons.
Pyle was greeted by the wrath of the seven furies when the chief learned of this. Thus was intensified the 10-year battle between Dr. McNamara and an honest cop who wanted to inject some truth into the gun control debate. McNamara continued his attempt to squeeze Pyle out of the department with continued attempted suspensions, demotions, re-assignments, and rumor campaigns. Pyle re-learned the drudgery of endless paperwork when forced to ride a desk instead of his cruiser. But the war of nerves went in Officer Pyle’s favor, ultimately, as the gun-owning community in and around San Jose coalesced into a pro-gun organization over this issue and put Pyle at its head. At the behest of the newly-founded “Quicksilver Coalition” (named mockingly to dig at the virulantly anti-gun San Jose Mercury Courier), there were public hearings, letter-campaigns and attempted recall elections of city officials. Testimony was given at the state Capitol in Sacramento. Lawsuits were threatened; lawsuits were filed. There was national news coverage of Pyle’s struggle. Pyle set up a computerized pro-gun bulletin board and named it the “Paul Revere News Service”. A newsletter began regular publication. Amidst all the skirmishes, the NRA noticed and, in 1989, named him “Man of the Year”. He was elected to the NRA Board of Directors. And throughout the tumult, Pyle held onto his job, not because he especially needed it – but because he felt that he had to.
Leroy Pyle had long since learned, from his years on the street, that you don’t back down from a threat.
During the last two years of the struggle, Pyle and Tom Aveni formed LEPSA. Underfunded and basically unstaffed, LEPSA grew from two to 4,000 members in a short time. Enough people had evidently heard about Leroy Pyle and were interested in taking a stand in support. Police officers were given free memberships while civilians paid $25.00 to join. There weren’t many overt benefits accruing to memberships in the organizations – I believe that one newsletter eventually made it out – but people joined anyway. Why? Well, just to help Leroy Pyle and make it known that a lot of cops and civilians out there were aware of the battle going on for our gun rights and, moreover, that they wanted to do something about it.
In February of this year, Dr. McNamara left the San Jose Police Department and went to work as a “research fellow” at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. Shortly thereafter, NRA got beyond the planning stage of an effort to strengthen seriously-weakened law enforcement relations and proposed a new, more globally-oriented, wide-reaching organization with broad appeal. Leroy came up with the name – the Law Enforcement Alliance of America – and pointed out that a logical structure for such already existed – in the form of LEPSA.
Sam Cross (NRA’s Law Enforcement Director) called a meeting. Present were Brenda and Ray Maples, Dwight Van Horn, Richard Beckman, Lt. Harry Thomas, Jim Fotis (Cross’ assistant), Tom Aveni, and Leroy Pyle. There was an odd thing about this meeting. Neither of the two Maples, Beckman, nor VanHorn had ever heard of LEPSA. And of these four, both Maples and VanHorn objected to the hiring of Pyle as Executive Director. But he was hired and then, promptly, Brenda Maples was elected president.
The first weeks and months were exhilarating, breathless and vibrant times. Calls of support flooded the phone lines while the mailman brought a daily avalanche of new applications, donations, and letters asking for information. Pro-gun congressmen, police officials, and gun rights activists all called, seeking information and advice on how to help. Robert K. Brown, publisher of Soldier of Fortune, donated generous ad space. The Washington Post did a surprisingly objective feature story on the cop who came to Washington and the organization he headed.
There were regular conferences with Jim Baker and Wayne LaPierre during the battles which began after the Brady bill passed the House. Neal Knox became more than an acquaintance and a voice on a telephone, developing into a trusted advisor and sage counselor, as well as a regular skeet-shooting companion. There were luncheon and dinner engagements and meetings with people whose powerful names dominate the firearms industry and the corridors of political
From a San Jose police officer’s eyes, the world looked good.
But there were problems and they were merely natterings at first. Reportedly, there was jealousy on the board of directors over Leroy’s having attended the 1991 Hollywood Celebrity Shoot, although he has been a regular guest in years past. And in July, Pyle attended the FOP Convention in Pittsburgh, there to lobby for pro-gun Tom Possumato and against Dewey Stokes. Leroy was told afterwards that he had been ordered not to go because his presence there “might be a tip-off that gun control was a central feature in the campaign for FOP president”; an odd charge, considering that Sam Cross, Jim Fotis, and four other NRA staffers, including two Field Representatives and two public relations/lobbyists, were present! Likewise, the annual Gun Rights Policy Conference in Philadelphia, one attended by a host of NRA Law Enforcement staffers.
There began a general background chatter that Leroy was “spending too much time on this Second Amendment thing”.
As is usual in such matters, nothing was presented directly to him. Rather, the simmerings of discontent occurred in the context of rumor and second-hand report. Pyle knew that a problem was developing but did not know who to confront. His NRA contacts and colleagues dismissed the chattering swell as irrevelant and advised him to ignore it and he did, throwing himself even more deeply into his work.
The LEAA Board of Directors held a meeting on October 13th. Following an executive session, board president Brenda Maples informed him that, by majority vote, his resignation had been requested. Pyle asked why and was told by Maples that “under the terms of his contract, his employment could be terminated without explanation”. Pursuing the question, he addressed it to Dwight VanHorn, who told him that he was “spending too much time on the Second Amendment thing and that he didn’t follow orders”.
Pyle refused to resign and was then summarily dismissed and ordered to clear out of his offices. Jim Fotis – who had previously helped Maples get the president’s position – was then named Executive Director.
Of the 6 directors who voted on the issue of Pyle’s dismissal, only Tom Aveni and Lt. Harry Thomas fought the action. Reportedly, they argued with the other directors for hours before the final vote.
Ironically, a massive membership-enhancement mailing went out on the Friday before Sunday’s terminal meeting. Pyle had worked on this mailing for months and had great expectations for it. And so, before these thousands of brochures and letters arrived at their destinations, the man over whose signature they were sent had been fired by the organization which was soliciting them for funds and new members – and the recipients would have no way of knowing this.
Further, with an irony that borders on the bizarre, the most recent public mention of Leroy Pyle has come from Sarah Brady. In a fund-raising letter dated October 18, 1991 (five days after his firing), interspersed between praises for Dewey Stokes and Joseph McNamara and pleas for money, she writes:
“One NRA board member, Leroy Pyle, is so crazed by my role in advocating handgun control he says about me ‘somebody [should] slip into the house one night and slit her throat.’” This is an outrageous remark coming from a former policeman who was once named ‘Man of the Year’ by the NRA. A man who now heads an NRA-backed law enforcement group set up to bolster the NRA’s empty claims of police support for their pro-gun line.”
If Leroy Pyle is so identified with the gun rights battle that Sarah Brady sees him as a basic, primary obstacle to her attempts to ban the possession of handguns (while managing to viciously libel him in the process), then the case could be made that he is, indeed, an ideal representative of a police-oriented organization founded to help protect the Second Amendment.
There has been silence from the NRA-ILA hierarchy in the weeks following Pyle’s termination. The sum total of the follow-up was manifested by an offer for a low-level job in ILA by Jim Baker. Numerous insiders have written to Baker, LaPierre, and Corbin at NRA expressing their outrage at the sudden and apparent “dumping” of Pyle by their organization – and have been answered by more silence.
The first inkling many had of Pyle’s termination came when they called his SkyPager, a satellite-linked beeper device that functions anywhere on the continent. It was out of service. It had been disconnected, without warning, by Jim Fotis.
Reluctant to speak out publicly on his own behalf, Pyle has privately expressed feelings of outrage, betrayal, and anguish. To date, the sole concession he has made to those who want to know what happened to him comes in the form of a letter recently mailed to the NRA Board of Directors and others in the gun movement family. The letter is factual – almost terse – yet unmistakenly flavored with bittersweet.
It concludes: “I am discouraged that certain people could do in 6 months what Joe McNamara couldn’t do in ten years!”
In the past week, three LEAA Board of Director members have resigned. Tellingly, all three are staunch Second Amendment activists and supporters: Lt. Harry Thomas, Sgt. Don Loncto, and Lt. Gary Paul Johnston. The future of the organization, one which is now apparently rudderless, is in doubt. Will NRA provide additional funding to an organization which fired the man who was synonymous with its founding and operation, and further, from whose board of directors the pro-gun leadership is resigning en masse?
Leroy Pyle’s future is up for grabs, right now. He gave up a 27-year police career to head a national pro-gun, pro-police, pro-victims’ rights organization and, by any reasonable measure, excelled at it. I predict that any future endeavors will make his past accomplishments pale in comparison.
In his own words: “LEAA was PRACTICE!”
November 24, 1991
Paul Revere News Service/Midwest
Route 1/Box 144-E
Kingsville, MO 64061